While much of the post-race talk of the Monaco Grand Prix focussed on Mercedes’ strategic mix-up that cost Lewis Hamilton the race win, one highly successful run went largely unnoticed in the melee.
Starting from the pitlane, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz slipped serenely up the order to eventually take home 10th place and one point come the final order.
Of course it could have been much more. Sainz loses some small credit for not stopping at the weigh bridge during the season’s most pivotal qualifying session; however it was an error he readily acknowledged following Saturday’s session. “I was actually quite satisfied and happy with a P8 in my debut in Monaco, but the stewards’ decision for me to start from the pit lane for not stopping at the weighing bridge in Q1 is very disappointing.”
The Spaniard is not the first driver to have made that error and he certainly won’t be the last either.
On Sunday, Sainz made a good start and was 16th by the end of lap two, before a retiring Pastor Maldonado promoted him to 15th at the five lap mark. On another day, that might well have been that; however having begun the race on used super soft Pirelli’s, the team executed a bold strategy to pull Sainz up the order, but it necessitated some sensitive driving from the 20-year-old.
Stopping to change to a new set of softs on lap 12, Sainz stayed out for the remainder of the race, eventually clocking up 66 laps on the Pirelli rubber, while maintaining a solid pace. “It was a very good race from the team in terms of strategy and tyre management. We worked for it very hard and completed a super long stint on the Soft tyre. This finally paid off and we managed to score a point.”
Admittedly, Monaco is not the hardest when it comes to tyre preservation, but it does present numerous other challenges – the precise nature of the circuit and the closeness of the barriers being just two examples. To be successful at the streets, a driver needs to push, but not so far that they go over the edge.
Yet the seeming gripless nature of the track appeared to catch a number of drivers and teams out. Certainly Williams were in no-man’s-land and as others fell behind amidst developing tyre stints, Sainz continued to climb the order – all the while keeping respectable pace.
Initially lapping in the mid-1’21s, Sainz began to regular break into the late-1’20s as fuel burned off, with a best of 1:19.816s coming on lap 48 (set while just behind Hamilton), before dropping back into the 1’20s,
Sainz had been helped to a degree when strategies for other competitors, such as Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean began to crumble, with the Toro Rosso man taking chunks out of the pairing, despite already run approximately 40 laps on the softs. With times also tapering off for others around the field, the final third of the race would prove critical.
And then help came from an unlikely source. When Max Verstappen clattered into the rear of Romain Grosjean on lap 64, Sainz broke into the top ten and Race Control engaged a safety car period, allowing drivers some slow laps to allow their Pirelli’s to breathe.
However approximately one-third of the remaining entrants took this time to make one final stop, but with the safety car trundling around at a sluggish pace, tyre pressures dropped making the race end tricky for a few. Upon the restart, Sainz was quickly back into the 1’21s and then again the late 1’20s and able to keep the charging Nico Hulkenberg at bay.
Crossing the line 10th, Sainz was clearly ecstatic. “What an amazing race, I’m very happy with the result! To start from the pit lane in Monaco, on my debut, and to cross the line in P10 feels like a victory,” beamed the Red Bull junior.
He continued, “It was a very good race from the team in terms of strategy and tyre management. We worked for it very hard and completed a super long stint on the Soft tyre. This finally paid off and we managed to score a point. I was really enjoying it out there, I was quick and enjoying this unique track, I didn’t want the race to end!”
While so much talk has – deservedly – been cast toward his Toro Rosso teammate Verstappen, Sainz has played a very good hand in the opening stage of his debut season and drives like this show clearly why he deserves his place in Formula One.